House budget would benefit Big Island roads

KAILUA-KONA — The recently approved House budget proposal, which state representatives sent along to the Senate Tuesday, includes nearly $361 million in Capital Improvement Project funding for Hawaii Island, the lion’s share of which will prioritize upgrades to roads and airports.

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KAILUA-KONA — The recently approved House budget proposal, which state representatives sent along to the Senate Tuesday, includes nearly $361 million in Capital Improvement Project funding for Hawaii Island, the lion’s share of which will prioritize upgrades to roads and airports.

The proposal allocates $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $926 million in fiscal year 2019 for CIP projects throughout Hawaii, but doesn’t include a number of statewide CIP projects that are not county specific. More than 60 percent of the $361 million the proposal would send to Hawaii County is geared toward the development or improvement of Big Island road systems.

The top line item is the extension of Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road, for which the proposal earmarks $89 million. The project extension is from Hilo terminus to the Queen Kaahumanu Highway. Another $55 million-plus would be allocated for improvements to drainage, repairs and rockfall protection on Hawaii Belt Road, while $40 million would be spent to improve and widen Keaau-Pahoa Road.

Legislators also plan to put more than $14 million toward drainage improvements, bridge replacements and work on guardrails and shoulders on Mamalahoa Highway over the next two years.

Rep. Nicole Lowen — Kailua-Kona, Holualoa, Kalaoa and Honokohau — said the massive chunk of money allocated to highway projects doesn’t necessarily reflect priorities of Hawaii Island legislators when the sources of the money are considered.

“A lot of the funding for the roads is federal, so it’s already earmarked for that purpose and is not taking away from the amount we have available in general obligation bonds for other projects, which we had to scale back a little bit this year because of the tight budget year,” she said.

The Saddle Road extension, for example, draws around $71 million from the federal level while the remainder of the cost is absorbed by a Hawaii Department of Transportation special fund, Lowen said.

Lowen stated her top priorities for general obligation financing as being mainly education-based, but she also mentioned a project to construct a West Hawaii Veterans Center, which under the proposal would receive $850,000 for planning and design.

“It has been pending for a long time, and the hold up in the past was they needed to identify where they wanted it to be and land that was available,” she explained. “That finally started moving forward.”

Prospective sites are located primarily off Kaiminani Drive, where the center would offer veterans services as well as an event and fundraising venue for the active veteran communities up and down the West Hawaii coast.

The budget proposal would also provide Hawaii Community College, Palamanui with $700,000 that Dr. Marty Fletcher, the school’s director, said will make way for crucial renovations to facilities. Those upgrades will allow the college to expand its programming further into the sciences and add more valuable trade and apprenticeship offerings.

The primary renovation will involve turning a classroom into a physics lab, which Fletcher said will complete the pathway for students who wish to earn an Associate in Science in Natural Science Degree.

“That is designed to help students transfer into science majors (at four-year colleges) as juniors,” he said. “We hope to have our first cohort of high-achieving students coming through this fall.”

The House budget proposal would also allocate $3.6 million to Kealakehe High School for the planning and construction of a performing arts center along with a synthetic track — something the campus needs in order to host track meets in the future.

While allocations to serve veterans and education initiatives in West Hawaii offer significant community value, the amount of money earmarked for them pales in comparison not only to road system improvements, but also to plans for Hawaii Island airports.

Nearly $65 million is set to fund several upgrades to Kona International Airport, including the construction of a federal inspection station, a new agricultural inspection station and an aircraft rescue and fire fighting center.

Hilo International Airport would receive $16.6 million to renovate aircraft aprons and the Arcade building, as well as to mitigate noise pollution at the Keaukaha subdivision, among other improvements.

Other initiatives to be funded under the proposal include $4.5 million for the renovation of the Hilo Counseling Center and Keawe Health Center, and $5.5 million for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for improvements to the county water system in Ka’u.

Kuuwehi Hiraishi, information specialist with Hawaiian Home Lands, said improvements would be focused along South Point Road and serve 12 agricultural and 25 pastoral homesteaders. A portion of the pastoral lots are currently served by the county system but none of the agricultural properties are.

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The focus would be more about agricultural production than residential water service in the immediate, she explained.

”They came to us and asked us if we could find a way to make some improvements to the system down there for them so they could start improving their agricultural lots,” Hiraishi said, “and maybe start making something come off of those lots.”

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